Bray: SPAC needs new advocates
PAUL BRAYTimes Union Article – Bray – SPAC need new advocates
Published 9:06 p.m., Thursday, September 13, 2012
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center was created to be a world-class facility for the classical arts. Duane LaFleche, an editor of Albany’s former Knickerbocker News, was a visionary who helped establish SPAC in the 1960s. He said it would be our region’s Tanglewood, only better.
That meant having the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra for four-week summer residencies. SPAC itself was to have a sloping lawn that provided better visual sight lines to the stage than the Tanglewood lawn.
Tanglewood emerged from a soggy farm in the Berkshires to go after visions like those of Serge Koussevitzky, former conductor of the Boston Symphony. His Tanglewood vision was to have “radiation of the beams of high culture over a nation and the whole world,” according to a New Yorker magazine article last month.
SPAC made its home in the beautiful Saratoga State Park, but it has not radiated visions of high culture. The New York City Opera only lasted at SPAC from 1986 to 1997.The Philadelphia Orchestra’s season is now three weeks. The New York City Ballet is swan diving from its original four-week residency to just a modest five-day visit next year.
When the ballet was here for four weeks, company members made their home in Saratoga Springs. Dancers could be seen at places in the community.
The current situation brings back memories of 2005, when former SPAC president Herb Chesbrough tried to end the ballet’s residency. That was a step too far for Saratoga and the region, and Chesbrough was let go. Thankfully, a grass-roots group, Save Our SPAC, has formed again to save the ballet. (Http://savethenycballet.wordpress.com).
There are steps to be taken to realize Duane LaFleche’s vision and save the classical arts at SPAC.
First, any entity dedicated to the classical arts needs an artistic director with charisma, imagination and organizational flair to highlight and excite people from near and far about the superb ballet and orchestra. SPAC, alas, has no artistic director.
SPAC’s current leader, Marcia White, previously was a nurse and a legislative employee. Her predecessor as president was a comptroller. Neither was close to being an artistic director.
The recent appointment of Judge Susan Phillips Read of the state Court of Appeals as chair of the SPAC board is another mistake. Judge Read got the OK to take that position on the condition she would not do any fundraising. Yet that’s the primary responsibility of boards of nonprofit arts organizations. To have a chair who must recuse herself from fundraising activity, as personally committed to SPAC as she may be, makes no sense.
While SPAC may be the “summer place to be” and relatively close to New York City, Boston and Montreal, its leadership has done a woefully poor job of attracting audience and wealthy patrons from these areas.
Creating a world-class, high-tech economy depends on being home to all kinds of excellence like a residency of the New York City Ballet. Yet, local funding is not adequate for excellence.
Times Union editor Rex Smith quoted White as saying, “How much more can you ask people to give?”
Leaders of successful artistic and education institutions don’t think like White. They never hold back from asking donors or potential donors for more.
Finally, SPAC should move beyond its reliance on Live Nation, which besieges SPAC with live rock concerts. It needs to connect the classical arts with assets of Saratoga Springs — like the racetrack, which according to a recent New York Times article, makes Saratoga Springs give Manhattan “chase as a city that never sleeps.”
The article pointed out “the magnetism of the track is what brings all these people here, whether they go to play the horses or just experience the atmosphere.”
Why can’t SPAC take advantage of that magnetism?
We need another advocate like Duane LaFleche, who got me and many others — including then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller — excited about having the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra perform in Saratoga.
Paul M. Bray was the founding president of the Albany Roundtable civic lunch forum. His e-mail is